How to Navigate the Holidays with a Sense of Recovery Instead of Stress

Tiina Hoffman

Tiina HoffmanExercise Physiologist & Master Trainer, Firstbeat@Tiinafbt

Stress & Recovery

2020 is not like most years, even when it comes to the holiday season – reading through my old holiday blog made it very clear that my message was going to be different this year.

Some of the typical sources of holiday stress are absent (little or no travel, crowded holiday shopping, or Christmas parties), but new sources of stress have emerged (how could I get together with a few loved ones, stay healthy, or get a change of pace from the lockdown routine?). Many are feeling blue and missing annual traditions (family gatherings, concerts, church events). Others might be relieved that they can basically ‘skip’ Christmas. Most are probably somewhere in between, trying to do the best with what this year can offer.

Making it work for us

So, how can we find the holiday spirit, be kind to ourselves and others, and come out with a sense of balance and peace, instead of stress?

The Firstbeat database, with over 400 000 measurements, has systematically shown that the amount of stress increases towards the end of the year. In fact, December 23, 24 and 31 boast the highest amount of measured stress all year.

Many of us can testify to feeling busy and stressed as the year-end nears and we try to tie things up at work and get ready for the holidays. To make matters more challenging, at least here in the north, the days keep getting shorter and darker, which can drain our energy, mix the circadian rhythm, and zap us of the motivation to exercise (a key combatant to stress).

Without minimizing how difficult life has been for many this year, we need to try to find the silver lining in a challenging situation. Here are a few thoughts to help you navigate the holiday season and hopefully come out the other side stronger and more resilient.

Why not try…

  • Figure out what your “must-haves” are (without which the holiday just doesn’t come) and leave the “nice-to-haves” for another year (maybe you will realize that nobody missed them anyway…).
  • Dress in cozy clothes, light a candle, listen to streamed concerts, or church services, or do online shopping from the comfort of your own couch, instead of dealing with crowded parking lots, uncomfortable church benches, or stores. Granted, it’s not the same, but technology does have its benefits!
  • Make time to catch up with loved ones over a heartfelt phone call, or give video calls a chance. With a little tutoring, even grandparents can learn a few new tricks. Or go old-school and write a Christmas letter! It’s not the same as hugging your loved ones but can be a big comfort to many.
  • Use social media constructively and read it selectively. It can be uplifting to send and read positive posts and catch up with friends around the world, but don’t hesitate to skip the negative rants that are likely to zap your spirit – and increase your stress levels.

A gentle reminder of moderation when it comes to eating, drinking and exercise (borrowed from my earlier blog, but it is as true as ever.) If we forego all our good habits, it’s a tough road back after the New Year, but it’s also ok to indulge.

You don’t need to stick to your most strict diet or exercise program during the holidays, or feel guilty about spending a day watching movies in your pj’s, but you are going to feel a lot better if you also prioritize some time for physical activity, schedule lighter food choices between the heavier meals and include days with little or no alcohol to ensure good-quality sleep.

How about a walk in the woods with family or a friend, an outdoor game, or a relaxing yoga session behind closed doors? Exercise is a great way to boost your well-being and resilience and relieve stress.

After being in some form of lockdown since March, we had hoped to put all of it behind us and fully enjoy the festive season. And we still can – just not in all the usual ways. Give yourself permission, with good conscience, to take it easy this year. Catch up on sleep and relax a bit more, so that instead of draining your body’s battery you can charge it and be better prepared for the challenges of the new year.

The big picture is what counts

Here is data from two recent days, collected with the Firstbeat Life app, to illustrate that some days are naturally going to be a bit harder than others.

Result comparison

You can probably guess which of the days involved indulging in a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. But I also took the time to be physically active on both days (shown in blue) and made sure that my sleep was long enough. The big picture is what counts. If we build in enough moments and days where the focus is on recovery and enjoyable activity, and sufficient sleep, we can handle a few busy days and holiday splurges now and then.

Happy holidays! Take care of yourself and those close to you!

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Tiina Hoffman

Tiina Hoffman Exercise Physiologist & Master Trainer, Firstbeat @Tiinafbt

Tiina is an Exercise Physiologist who works at Firstbeat as a Wellness Specialist. Growing up as a skier, Tiina spent 4 years cross-country ski racing and later 4 year coaching at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. After moving back to Finland, she found her way to Firstbeat after several years in overtraining and heart rate variability field studies at the Research Institute for Olympic Sports and the University of Jyväskylä. To maintain a good balance in her own life, she enjoys the outdoors – kayaking, hiking, xc-skiing and escaping to her cabin in the woods.

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